The West London residential neighborhoods of Chelsea, South Kensington, and Knightsbridge are perfect for a family day out. There is space for kids to run, many of the city’s grandest museums and lots of well-priced cafes.
The following itinerary should appeal to all age groups but is designed from the perspective of giving children cultural stimulation alongside fun in the sun. Of course you can do this in any order but if you follow this plan, you visit a museum in the morning when kids are fresh and the lines should be shorter.
From start to finish, this walk covers a bit over four miles but it is mostly divided into segments of under a mile, with the exception of the 1.5 mile distance from the Diana Memorial Playground to the Hyde Park boathouse.
Have breakfast in Chelsea at Baker & Spice, a friendly café that began life as a small bakery and has expanded to an all-day eatery. There’s good coffee for the grown-ups and a wealth of sweet concoctions. The communal tables lend a warm, neighborhoody feel.
It’s slightly more than half-a-mile to the great museums of South Kensington: the Victoria & Albert, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. Pick one. They are vast; more than one will overwhelm a child, if not an adult. It’s wise to arrive at 10 or a bit before during school holidays – the queue for the Natural History Museum can get discouragingly long.
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When the kids have had their fill of indoor exploration, walk north on Exhibition Road for about one-half mile towards Kensington Gardens. Make a left at the end of Exhibition Rd. and enter the park at the first gate on your right. Turn left again and walk along South Carriage Road which runs inside the park, parallel to the main road, until you reach the Broad Walk, the wide avenue which bisects the park alongside Kensington Palace. Walk north, away from Kensington, and at the far end, you’ll come out in the neighborhood of Bayswater, where the restaurant Royal China serves authentic dim sum of Hong Kong. This is a really cost-effective and fun way to feed a family.
After lunch, it’s time for another run-around so head back to the Broad Walk via the Bayswater Road entrance to Kensington Gardens. Just off the Broad Walk on the right is the imaginative Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground, where a huge pirate ship takes center stage amid swings, tepees, sensory play toys and a huge sand area.
Now it’s time to walk a bit, this time towards Hyde Park which is connected to Kensington Gardens but separated by the Serpentine Bridge and West Carriage Drive. If you walk east towards the Long Water, you can enjoy the Italianate Gardens which are at the northern end, and then follow the water path on the west side all the way to Hyde Park. Along the way, you’ll pass The Peter Pan Statue, a childhood landmark for residents of this area.
Just before the Serpentine Bridge, walk up the hill to the main road and cross the Serpentine Bridge and the Serpentine itself, so that you come down on the northeast side of the water. If you miss this cut-off, don’t despair. You can access Hyde Park by walking under the bridge, but you’ll have to go all the way around the Serpentine, as the only bridge is at the dividing line of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. About one-half mile from the bridge is the Hyde Park Boathouse, where from April to September you can rent pedal boats and rowboats for an excursion on the Serpentine.
Continue walking to the end of the Serpentine, and exit the park at Hyde Park Corner. Straight ahead is the magnificent Wellington Arch, topped by a magnificent quadriga statue of horses and carriage. What many people don’t realize is that you can go inside and from the top, you get a bird’s eye view into the Queen’s gardens at Buckingham Palace. There’s also a good exhibition on the Battle of Waterloo – just the right length.
It’s touristy and a cliché, but all kids love the Hard Rock Café. There are outposts all over the world but this one is the original. It’s right across the street from the Wellington Arch, so a quick transition from ancient monument to a rock and roll party.